Kromminga, J.H.






Throughout the history of the church there has been tension between the ideal of unity and the practice of separation in the name of purity of doctrine. Both of these can find justification in Scripture, and their co-existence is tacitly admitted by the church's confessions, as, for example, when the Heidelberg Catechism speaks of Christ gathering his church in the unity of the true faith.

Where that tension has reached the point of agonizing decision, it has more often than not resulted in at least a partial victory for separation. The resulting rifts, once created, tend only to widen until they are beyond repair. It is not possible to keep an exact score on these victories and defeats, since in many cases it is not clear how much unity was salvaged or what price was paid for it. But the existence of a countless host of competing denominations, all claiming adequate justification for their separate existence, is loud testimony to the prevalence of defeats endured by catholicity when tensions have finally reached the boiling point.

Vigor and initiative are more prominently displayed on the side of separation than on the side of catholicity. In almost every instance, separation is pictured as separation from unbelief; seldom if ever is it thought of by the seceders as a rending of the church.

Concern for the unity of the body of Christ has always been in order. The contemporary situation in some respects underscores that concern. On the one hand, sincere Christians, except when they are involved on one side or the other of a recent schism, have become comfortable with the existence of many denominations. On the other hand, a spirit of self-assertion and individualism is abroad which threatens many institutions, not least among them the church. It might be an exaggeration to say that unity is a more urgent topic today than ever before; but certainly such urgency is not absent from today’s scene.


Tensions that reached the breaking point and defeats for unity existed long before the emergence of that family of churches called Reformed, but although Reformed churches did not invent divisions or initiate the practice of justifying them in the name of the purity of the church, they have not lagged behind other groups of churches in this regard. Whether on the European Continent or in the British Isles, the New World, or the Orient, they have divided frequently and easily, with well-developed arguments to support their actions.

There can be little question that it is time to be honestly facing this situation. That is a need which the present volume seeks to meet. If it is — and it truly is — a mark of theological vigor to be able and willing to critique one’s own position, then this book signals the vigor of the conservative Reformed churches. It is also a sign of the power of the Reformed confession of catholicity to break into and challenge the Reformed tradition of secession.

In the pages which follow one can find many variations on the single theme that it is time to re-commit the Reformed churches to catholicity. A challenging note is sounded at the outset in the bold thesis that Reformed churches have upgraded secession at the expense of unity. A very frank address to this problem includes a critique of evangelical reluctance to come to terms with the ecumenical movement.

The Reformed confessions are not disregarded; but it is pointed out that the churches of those confessions have misused them to justify secessions much more easily than a careful reading would allow.

There are differences of accent between one contribution and another. One author is ready to settle for toleration as the basic requirement. Another takes more seriously the reality of the tension inherent in concern for divine truth in a world full of error. One of the more challenging contributions comes from a non-western writer, in whose world the questions of catholicity and separation do not look the same as they do in the West.

These varieties of approach and accent enrich, rather than impoverish, these pages. Reversing a trend which has been much


glorified in the past will take a good deal of argumentation and debate, not to speak of repentance. This volume is a much needed and too long delayed contribution to that debate. It is high time that Reformed believers take the unity of the church more seriously. This volume will challenge them to do so.